#ColumnNes Now, the only question is how good the 2023 Baltimore Ravens can be

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After an old-fashioned butt whooping of a 37-3 magnitude and a very long airplane ride home for the Seattle Seahawks, the truth begins to emerge about the current version of the Super Bowl contending Baltimore Ravens. The floor is suddenly rising and the health, cohesive improvement and sheer talent of this football team starts to flash the promise that something special is at work in the sixth season of The Revolution of Lamar Jackson.

Talk of next February this early in this November is always premature but make no mistake: the pedigree and stock are in order for this group. Of course, the Ravens will have two AFC North landmines on their own grass in the next 10 days, but also a rare chance to bury the rest of the division before Thanksgiving and start eyeing a real January course to greatness.

It was emphatically stated over the summer and repeatedly – in this space ­and on the airwaves and on social media – by this host and here in #ColumnNes that the Ravens defense might just be the lead story and the better side of the ball for this squad.

That has been a fact. And that’s not meant to be an insult to the potential of the offense.

Now that this crucial home stand began with some conviction and finality against Geno Smith and the Seahawks, it’s hard to argue with Tony Romo’s assessment: “No one is coming into Baltimore and beating this team in January.” (Romo also said: “This might be the best team in the NFL I’ve seen” but that is why they’ll play the next dozen games or so…)

The Ravens have never hosted an AFC Championship Game in January because they’ve never been the best team in October or November. This unit certainly feels like it’s out that change that narrative.

The current Ravens score enough and can control the clock enough with the present running game to put a lot of pressure on any team. They score a little bit, get the ball back and do it some more unless Lamar fumbles the ball or someone kicks the ball around. The defense has traveled well and continues to play with a veteran presence that will soon make defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald an NFL head coach. Romo was a pretty decent quarterback in his recent day and he knows it’s gonna take a really good quarterback to solve this hybrid and well-disguised defense as constructed over 60 minutes.

In the end, you must believe that it’ll be Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen in early 2024 but these legitimate tune ups coming next Thursday with a healthy Joe Burrow, then Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tagovailoa through the holidays will also show where the defense stacks up against the best the NFL has to offer. In the end, it’ll be some combination of them if you want to navigate the road to Las Vegas and a chance for Lamar Jackson to show his rare skills on the road to a Valentine’s Day parade. And the Ravens still have the Los Angeles Rams coming here and a Christmas Night visit to San Francisco for more chances for the NFC to try to continue to solve his mystery and mystique of a gaudy 18-1 record against the blue conference.

The second half will be harder than the first half. The schedule mandates that.

Now, for head coach John Harbaugh, it’s all about getting this team to January with health, prosperity, and the kind of weekly improvements, adjustments and scheming we’ve seen when the coaches have all of the starting pieces to put on the field. Make no mistake about it; this is a far different version of the Ravens than what we saw eight weeks ago when the season started against Houston.

The Ravens running game has started to emerge after sputtering and leaving questions. And there is still nothing better or more consistent than Lamar to Mark Andrews. When that’s working, it opens up the whole purple offensive symphony and has made everyone in the passing game more dangerous in single coverage. The realities of the pedigree of the wide receivers room was apparent all summer. But as the season moves into the second half, everyone has now contributed in some key way to building confidence in the entire unit as Todd Monken tries to put Lamar in a position to distribute the ball and the offensive line and running game has made drives feel too easy at times. And the long, plodding second-half, ball-hogging drives that shorten the game follows the MVP 2019 standard for how to do it. The Gus Bus and Keaton Mitchell looked formidable against whatever Pete Carroll wanted to do on Sunday.

But, again, as much as the flash of the offense and its flashy stars take up the oxygen, the defense is the story for the Ravens. That, and Eric DeCosta’s ability to find the likes of Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy and plug them into the heart of this transplanted Roquan Smith defense and find an old-soul, lunch pail sensibility that has yielded a shutdown mentality. Six points was too much for Detroit. I’m guessing three was three too many against the Seahawks. The Cleveland Browns pitched their own home shutout over Arizona on Sunday but DeShaun Watson will now to come to Baltimore on Sunday and contend with 60 minutes of hell and the best defense in the land.

At one point on Sunday, Roquan Smith was 45 yards down the field with Patrick Queen stalking and watching big, ole D.K. Metcalf not wanting any of their physical contact in the aftermath of the only explosive play the Seahawks had all day. Kyle Hamilton doing pushups after missing an easy interception is the new standard for the team. Or as Van Noy, who won two Super Bowls in the land of Belichick and Tom Brady, said: “He better be…”

The Ravens outscored Detroit and Seattle 72-9 over 120 minutes in Baltimore in the last 15 days. And the guys on the defense are pissed about all nine of them!

This team is only scratching the surface of how good it can be.

Winning the Super Bowl starts with playing in Baltimore in January. And having a week off. And getting Lamar off the field as much as possible with a team that is now winning 80% of its games. Yes, more of Tyler Huntley doing mop up, please! That takes more touchdowns; less field goals. And certainly less turnovers, fumbles, mistakes and penalties in the early going. The Ravens had a few of all of the above on Sunday and still managed to still be throttling the quite-decent-by-NFC-standards Seattle Seahawks by 3 p.m. in the same fashion as they dispatched of the Detroit Lions at home.

A real ass-kicking by any name.

The Ravens are a very impressive 7-2 – and really beat themselves in slapstick fashion to lose the pair they’ve gifted Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

The beer is presently very cold in Baltimore. And the expectations are rising.

And here come Cleveland and Cincinnati and the whole state of Ohio.

Don’t blink.

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